Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Social Democrats At Play 

All together now: Israel is a bastion of social democracy in a sea of hostile hand-chopping, women-beating desert dwellers of Araby.

Now we've got that cleared, let's look at Bar-Ilan University.

Bar-Ilan was one of the universities mentioned in a boycott motion passed by the British Association of University Teachers (AUT) last month. The motion, proposed by the Birmingham University and Open University branches, also named the Hebrew University and Haifa University. It was passed overhwlemingly by the AUT's 2005 Council.

Bar-Ilan is a university founded by the religious Zionist movement and has been active in supporting settlers in the occupied West Bank town of Ariel. Bar-Ilan sponsors courses at the Judea and Samaria College there, in illegal territory. By doing so it has given comfort to usurpers of Palestinian land and raised their two academic fingers at the dispossessed Palestinian people.

There's a move afoot now to have that resolution overturned, and you're hearing all the familiar arguments. In the Guardian on Tuesday, 24th May, 21 Nobel Prize winners signed a letter asking for the ban to be overturned. Among the signatories were Shimon Peres and Elie Wiesel. "There is nothing more intrinsic to the academic spirit than the free exchange of ideas," they wrote. The Palestinian dispossessed have been listening to this free exchange of idea for more than half a century now, in the rubble and in their broken up homes, and they've been watched in silence by the likes of Shimon Peres and Elie Wiesel.

Then, another letter, signed by "expat South Africans, some of us intimately involved in the anti-apartheid struggle", another plea was made. In her argument in support of the boycott, Sue Blackwell of Birmingham University said:
"Israel is an apartheid state. It has many parallels with South Africa and the boycott campaign models itself on the campaign against South Africa."
The expat South Africans' reply to this was all too familiar: "[W]e reject this parallel. Israel may adopt policies with which we disagree, but the institutions of social democratic Israel do not bear comparison with the authoritarian and racist structures of apartheid South Africa."

This, in short, is the problem that confounds Palestinians living in exile, those who've been refused the right to return to the land of their birth, and those living in the squalor and deprivation of 'refugee' camps inside and outside the disputed areas. When it comes to viewing the Palestinian problem, even the detached minds of the academic intelligentsia become very muddled and their eyes blind to the sight of human suffering. Just look into those refugee camps and the Nazi-like punishment of home demolition that they've suffered, the short-life span of under-nourished Palestinian children living in constant danger, and the monstrous Wall that is now fencing out Palestinians from their own farmlands and which will soon isolate East Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa - all in the name of 'security'. How many of those academic Nobel prize-winners and academics now raising their voice against the boycott of Bar-Ilan have raised their voice against all that?

It is an ingenuous argument that, to say that Israel is no parallel to South Africa. When the apartheid regime was at its height in South Africa, which country in the Middle East was its staunchest ally? Which country now exists on the raison d'etre of the superiority of the Jews above all other people, that discriminates against dark-skinned Jews from Africa and India? Which state makes its own Palestinian Arabs second-class citizens now, which land-grabbing regime blames its victims to justify its own depravity?

What price academic freedom? What price a little child without a future?


Social Democrats At Play

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Playing It By The Book 

"Contrary to White House spin, the allegations of religious desecration at Guantanamo published by Newsweek on May 9, 2005, are common among ex-prisoners and have been widely reported outside the United States. Several former detainees at the Guantanamo and Bagram prisons have reported instances of their handlers sitting or standing on the Koran, throwing or kicking it in toilets, and urinating on it. Prior to the Newsweek article, the New York Times reported a Guantanamo insider asserting that the commander of the facility was compelled by prisoner protests to address the problem and issue an apology."



Playing It By The Book

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Story You're Reading Is Untrue 

There's a wide gulf between official figures and stories from eye-witnesses on the number of dead in the recent Uzbekistan demonstration. The President, a man with the most unsuitable name of Islam Karimov, said that 30 died in Andizhan, including 10 policemen, while a spokesperson for the Uzbek Appelation Human Rights group said that he saw about 300 bodies taken away in lorries, about a third of them women. Now, the figure has risen to 600, including women and children too.

The pot has finally boiled over in Uzbekistan, darling of President Bush and Tony Blair for its 'anti-terrorist' credentials. Uzbekistan has a horrendous human-rights record in a country where hundreds are being detained and tortured in ways that defy the imagination, including being thrown into boiling water. A British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, was thrown out of his country's foreign service for daring to criticise the Uzbek government's violations of human rights, and recently he fought the elections against Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to bring home the point. He collected 4,000 votes, a surprising number, in Straw's own constituency.

Karimov's response to the riots is no more surprising than the Nelsonian view of those who're so eager to push the world into their Neocon war. Karimov said that the riots were started by Islamists eager to set up an Islamic state, an excuse so in tune with the times that it produces not so much as a blink any more. In short it amounts to something like this: that Islamists deserve what they get, and if they're clamouring for an Islamic state, the sooner they're dead the better. Branding all Uzbek oppositionists Islamists is of course a convenient way of making them highly disposable.

Then, from the cauldron of Islamists came another story. The magazine Newsweek would, at normal times, be proud of the veracity of their stories. But in one of their recent reports they sowed the seed of Islamist agitation, that the Qur'an was flushed into the pan during interrogations in Guantanamo. Now, as you may have imagined, this would've caused any number of Muslims to come out in the streets, and indeed it drove quite a few hundred in Afghanistan to protest, and, sadly, to die in their anger. Newsweek has since apologised, and even said — with great relief — that their story, thank God, was untrue. How good of them to do so, especially as there's a danger of this dissatisfaction spreading all over the world: Afghanistan today, Pakistan tomorrow, then India, and Iran and what will those Shiahs in Iraq do?

Now, there's incredulity at the Muslims' inability to accept that the story that they thought was true is in fact untrue, and that Newsweek had been telling a lie. Today, on the lunchtime news on the BBC, the interviewer asked a gentleman from Pakistan, how a few lines in the Newsweek could have made them so angry? The gentleman's reply perhaps surprised the BBC: it wasn't the length that mattered, but the perception that it was true.

The Newsweek reporter who wrote the story must've felt confident that he got it right, though he didn't see that it could've caused so much trouble. Perhaps he was already aware that there'd been much talk of that already. Muslim detainees have been constantly talking about how they've been abused for their religion, denied time for prayers, which Muslims have to do five times a day. Even in Britain, there'd been reports of a detainee being asked to kneel on his prayer mat before being taken away from his home, and asked by a sneering policeman, "Where is your Allah now?"

If Condoleeza Rice is expressing concern about the effect of such stories on the Muslim world (including those friendly to the USA) there's only one way now for them to be truly sorry: open Guantanamo now to independent inspection, and let the detainees defend themselves in open courts of law.

§ What drives support for this torturer.
§ 'I don't know why they opened fire. They killed the unarmed citizens of Andijan'


The Story You're Reading Is Untrue

Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Long Road 

My cab driver that night was a Hazara, so I asked him what he thought of the anti-American riots that were taking place in Afghanistan. There have been reports of anger among the Afghan populace after reports began to appear that the Guantanamo interrogators had adopted a technique for humiliating their Muslim prisoners: they flush down copies of the Qur'an down the pan.

My Hazara driver paused awhile, then said in a tone that was palpably sad. "We should use them as much as we can," he said. His "they" here were the Americans. Then he went on into a long analysis about that man once known as the Lion, and various other factions that tore Afghanistan apart after the Soviet army left.

"The Lion of Panjshir? Massoud?" I asked, resurrecting a name that even I had forgotten.

"Yes, that's the one," he said, irked that I had interrupted the flow of his sentence. He went on about how many Afghans were killed in the civil war, by this party and that. "Now only a few people are killed in a day," he concluded. "An improvement."

In a way I could understand how he felt. To understand how the Hazaras have been treated in Afghanistan one has only to read Khaled Hosseini's marvellous book, The Kite Runner. I knew how, as a Hazara, he must've felt, caught in an internecine warfare between various warlords, with little in there for them to look forward to.

So I asked him another question, "Have you ever wondered where Massoud, and that blood-thirsty Hekmateyar, and that mad man on the motorbike got all their weapons to prolong their war?"

Then my Hazara cab driver started to talk about oil, and global interests, but still he was thankful that only a handful — not hundreds — now die in a day in Afghanistan.

And then I remembered what Abu Talat, (friend of journalist Dahr Jamail, whose despatches from Iraq I urge you to read), told another taxi driver in Amman. "Now I feel ashamed to tell people I am Iraqi, because my country has been totally destroyed."

Jamail thought of comforting him by saying, "But it isn't your fault, habibi," but thought better of it, as words wouldn't have been adequate.

Of the massive sum earmarked for reconstruction in Iraq, very little has been spent on restoring the electrical supply, on hospitals, on schools. A massive amount has been paid to foreign contractors, and not a little of it has flown back to the coffers of companies formerly run by the very people who are now claiming to be bringing democracy to Iraq.

Iraq has been kept in darkness and misery for a purpose. That's what many people are now beginning to think; and in Afghanistan things have been much the same. But the sadness to me is when my friend the cab driver could be indifferent to all that because, all that fighting now and pillaging are a useful distraction to the plight of his own underclass.


A Long Road

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Torturers R Us 

Sandy Mitchell. Tortured by Saudis

The above picture of Caucasian Sandy Mitchell, British citizen, was captured from Saudi TV and reproduced on the cover of the Guardian supplement G2 on Tuesday 10th May, 2005. G2's blurb read:
"In February 2001, Sandy Mitchell confessed on Saudi TV to planting a car bomb that killed a fellow Briton. What he didn't say was that for seven weeks he had been brutally tortured..."
Should you be outraged?

Of course you should be.

Below is a familiar picture from a familiar story that has now been relegated to the backroom of our collective minds. The prisoners that appear in the picture below have never been tried, never been charged, never knew what they are there for. Some were picked up from the streets, others bundled away in the middle of the night from their homes, some may have fought against the US, but how do we know that? All have been brutally tortured, their religion insulted, they were forced to see the Qur'an flushed in the toilet. In many ways they faced worse than Sandy Mitchell.

Guantanamo prisoners

Should you be outraged?

This is not an attempt to deflect blame from the Saudis. What they have done to Sandy Mitchell is wrong. Many will say that Saudi Arabia is a country ruled by a bunch of hypocritical despots. But what's heinous in Arabia of the Sauds should also be heinous anywhere else, Asia, Europa, Latin America or the United States. But the US, of course, do not practise torture, they get it done in Guantanamo, which is outside their country's reach. They farm the work out to other more expereinced torturers, like Egypt or Israel, then they use confessions that come out screaming from those poor sods in trials in their own courts.

Take Britain, for instance, home of Sandy Mitchell. Two years after they raided a house in North London, a man named Kamel Bourgass appeared in Court, charged with, among other things, conspiracy to manufacture ricin. There was no ricin of course, but the media latched on to it and everyone heaved a sigh of relief that this man, who produced no ricin, had been caught for having tried to poison us in our tracks. But the worrying thing is that much of the evidence against Bourgass — whoever he was — came from the mouth of a man named Muhammad Meguerba who "found his tongue" while under interrogation by the Algerian authorities. You can read about this in my previous blog House of the Ricin Son.

In the last British elections that rattled Tony Blair a bit (but nothing like being rattled under torture, mind), one of the candidates that Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had to face in his constituency was Craig Murray, who was fighting the election on an anti-torture ticket. Murray knew a thing or two about torture: he was, until his removal, British ambassador to Uzbekistan, where torture is a popular means of persuasion. One of the more popular methods used by interrogators there is the immersion of prisoners in boiling water. Murray had evidence of this and was trying to persuade the British government to stop supporting regimes that boil water for other purposes than to make tea — a good enough reason at that. But the British government wouldn't have any of this. Uzbekistan was a useful ally in another fight that the British government had in mind in the name of decency, terrorism.

Torture is a growth industry. When the Latin American countries led the world in torturing their citizens, much of the equipment used were imported from Western countries. Some were home made, like the falaka batons, but psychological back-up came from more advanced researchers like the United States and other nations that were only too keen to grab hold of human guinea pigs. Israel is of course a leading torturing nation that is now only too eager to help the United States (and other countries in the world, including one in Asean) with its own torture advancements. In fact, rumour is rife that Abu Ghreib was teeming with them. The US sends terrorist suspects to Egypt, to be tortured, and then use the evidence against other men.

Torture is encouraged now, by countries that used to pride themselves in being decent. So, what do we say to Sandy Mitchell and to those in Britain who've been jolted by his fate at the hands of the Sauds? What do we say those poor souls in Guantanamo and elsewhere who've been tortured?


Torturers R Us

Saturday, May 07, 2005

A Principled Kind of Guy 

Do you have proof, KK asked me in an email, that Blair ever batted an eyelid when accused of telling a lie?

Pity our poor Blair, having to attend the announcement of his own victory in his constituency of Sedgefield, glum faced, and sandwiched by wife Cherie on his right, and a fellow candidate with BLIAR wrapped around her head. All this while another fellow-candidate, Reg Keys, whose soldier son died in Iraq, was giving a very dignified speech about how he (Blair) had misled the country to war, and how he was hoping that one day Blair would have it in his heart to say sorry.

Sure he won the general election for a third term, but with the lowest percentage of votes ever received by a party of government, 36%, lower even than Thatcher the Snatcher's, lower than even the number of voters who didn't bother to vote (39%). The Blair government has had more than 100 MPs taken from his majority of 161 in the last Parliament, a comfortable number that gave him the ability to flap his wings and crow that his was a leadership of principle, taking unpopular decisions and lying about the causes for going into war with Iraq.

Now, with a government majority of 66 — not all of whom are Blair-friendly MPs — his wings will be clipped, he will have to look ove rhis shoulder often at his ambitious Chancellor Gordon Brown, and maybe resign early on, er, principle.

So have I got proof that Blair ever flinched, batted an eyelid, when accused of a porky pie? Not really, but does he now?

And the way it looks now is that it'll get worse if it'll ever get better. This Blair government also saw through the potentially fraud-riddled system of postal ballots, with postal voters registered in greater numbers than before — 3..9% voted by post in 200; last Thursday, about 15% were registered for postal ballot, and we do not yet know how many did. It is a system that is open to fraud, with each major party given power to act as postal-voting clearing house, and voter registration unchecked.

Just before last Thursday, a judge in Birmingham declared that there had been widespread fraud in Birmingham in six council seats won by Labour. Interestingly, Labour, the party of the goverment that put this postal voting mechanism in place, said that criticism of it had been scaremongering. When asked to scrap it, or make it secure, they said they had no time for it for the last elections. Fancy that coming from a government that had nearly five years to prepare for elections. Then, on election night, when a TV commentator made a point of the instability of the system, a Labour party spokesperson said that both the main opposition parties had given it approval, just like saying that he'd no interest in being upright because two other persons didn't have an interest in it either. In any case, the government said that safeguards put in place were working very well.

In the Birmingham case, judge Richard Mawrey QC said that Labour had been in 'denial', and then he said of the government's defence of the system:
"Anybody who has sat through the case I have just tried and listened to evidence of electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic would find this statement surprising..."
At the moment, investigations into postal-voting fraud in last year's council elections are being conducted in many more constituencies than just Birmingham. Nobody knows yet how many people chose to vote by postal ballot in last Thursday's elections, but already two prominent people have complained: BBC Radio 4's John Humphreys and TV personality Mariella Frostrup, both said that they had not registered to vote by post, both said that they had been turned away at the polling stations last Thursday because, they were told, they had opted to vote by post.

So what will Blair do now that he's been reported to have said that he will listen closely to the people? Can a party that chose to deceive over Iraq be trusted with a voting system that's full of holes? Perhaps it's a big jump from one to the other, maybe a government that produced a tired old PhD thesis to bolster its pro-war stance, and leaked the name of weapons inspector David Kelly, the man who'd said in a non-attributable interview with the BBC that government reports on WMDs in Iraq had been 'sexed up', can be trusted after all. But let's take another look at that before we make up our mind. Blair's government denied that they had leaked Kelly's name (Kelly commited suicide after he was named and sacked), then an inquiry exonerated Blair, then, just weeks before the last elections, Blair said: "I don't believe we had any option, however, but to disclose his name."

There's a fine line between settting out to deceive and setting out to lie. As journalist Peter Oborne says in his book The Rise of Political Lying, 'political lying began as a systemic phenomenon under the last Tory government' and became fully developed under Blair's New Labour. It is gaining legitimacy of course by the devise of 'spin' that justifies bending facts, pulling the wool over the electorate's eye, then perhaps lying a little. From WMDs and all the other untruths that led to the Iraq war, Blair came out clinging to principle. Under great pressure just days before the last polling day he said that sometimes unpopular decisions had to be taken, implying that he was a man who had the courage to do so. Strange that he chose to be courageous when all the excuses he'd given for the war started to fizzle one after another. What he appears to be saying is tantamount to this: that telling a fib isn't wrong, it's being caught that is the trouble. And then you plead a principle.

And as for those postal votes, we'll hear more about them, I can assure you.

§ Postal votes irregularities.
§ Labour postal voting fraud in Birmingham.


A Principled Kind of Guy

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Bending It A Little 

Michael Howard the Conservative party leader calls him a liar, and the marvel is he doesn't bat an eye-lid anymore. Being called a liar used to be the cause of actions in law but nowadays it stiffens the 'moral' uprightness of a Prime Minister, whose name was paraded in placards in those anti-war demos as BLIAR.

Today, in polling stations throughout Blighty, voters will make their cross in secret and return or discard their Members of Parliament. Many have gone off Blair and will abstain, some will have gone off Blair and gone over to the LibDems. Others — Muslims mostly — will throw in their lot with Gorgeous George Galloway, the Labour defector turned anti-war Respect. George, who's now fighting an East London seat against Blairite Babe Oona King, is the nearest this election's got to becoming dirty. This is the seat to watch as anti-warriors overthrow King to return Galloway, or maybe not. A lot depends on what turns the Muslims on today, and how the postal votes will upset the applecart. At a war memorial rally in the build up to the elections, King was pelted with eggs and booed. "They don't know where they got their democracy from," King retorted, to mainly Muslim jeerers.

Postal ballots will feature prominently in this election, and there are signs that this one will get out of control partly by a government that doesn't care.The British electoral system leaves opportunities open for electoral fraud through postal votes, as happened in Birmingham. Many constituencies are now still under investigation after accusations of fraud, as many more will be once this election's over. The lawyers will be in work for many more years.

The curious feature of the elections this time is the glaring lack of issues. It is not altogether surprising though, seeing as how Labour ha stransformed itself into the Conservative Party, while the Conservative party's exhausted itself after those strident years under Thatcher. So the Conservatives do what they do best under pressure: invoke the ghost of immigration and asylum seekers, a fine sound it makes when the Conservative party leader voicing this concern is himself the son of inward travellers. "Your father was a refugee," said smug, sneering television bruiser Jeremy Paxman on the BBC to Michael Howard in their televisoon non-duel. "No," replied Howard, "my father was a migrant worker." Howard,1; Paxman, 0. So it's alright then for the son of a migrant worker to slag off asylum seekers who are mostly from Muslim countries. See? Politics can be that simple.

And of course, the causes of war. Now it's slowly but surely emerging that Blair had, er, misinformed us about the advice given him by his Attorney General on the conduct of war against Iraq. First opinion the AG wasn't sure, second opinion, AG was all for war. Blair didn't tell Parliament about the prevaricating AG, nor did he tell his Cabinet members, so sure was he of war. Now there's a thin tissue here between telling a lie and not telling the whole truth. But Blair has a ready answer for all those taunts that he got from potential voters that he met on his tours. Sometimes you have to take an unpopular choice because it's right, or something like that. You can bend the truth a little if you have absolute certainty. You can fly in the face of public opinion if you're prime minister.

In Iraq, they voted, and the majority voted for the Us to leave (though we don't hear about that when we hear them crow about democracy triumphant over there). Saudi Arabia offered to move in with Arab peacekeeping forces, and of course they were rejected. Why? Because sometimes you have to make unpopular choices, and maybe bend the truth a little.

Many Labour supporters who will not vote for Labour today in protest against what Blair did that took the country to war. There's little doubt that Blair will win the elections again, but with a reduced majority. There are parents of dead soldiers waiting in the wings to take him to Court to question the legality of the war. Perhaps in Blair's last term as Prime Minister the boat will rock a little from the people swimming against Blair. And when Bush finally decides to go for Iran, we'll be able to see once again where Blair's reasons will lie.


Bending It A Little

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